Karlsruhe Causa in "The Book Collector"

In the newest issue of „The Book Collector“ is a comment on the Karlsruhe desaster. I am very thankful to Nicolas Barker who gave kind permission to re-publish the text here.

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NEWS AND COMMENT

IN THE BADISCHE Landesbibliothek in Karlsrühe is one of the finest
collections of medieval manuscripts and early printed books in Germany.
Like other libraries of its kind, much of its wealth derives from the
secularisation of the monasteries in the first years of the nineteenth
century. At its core (but this is by no means the only part of its
riches) is the principal surviving part of the library monastery of
Reichenau, a foundation dating from the early eighth century and one of
the oldest libraries in Europe. Further books derive from other local
monasteries including St Blasien, and there are yet others from Hersfeld
and Fulda, both Anglo-Saxon foundations of the eighth century: the
English connections are strong, and well represented in the collections
with manuscripts dating from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. In September it
emerged that the government of Baden-Württemberg was on the brink of
selling some 3500 out of 4200 manuscripts, in order that the money
raised could be passed to the princely house of Baden (reports on what
might happen to the music and early printed books were conflicting). The
proceeds were to be used in part for the repair of Schloss Salem, a
building belonging to the family but currently in use as a school. The
intention was to raise 70 million euros, and by this act to settle any
possibility of the family claiming other things from the state. Not
surprisingly, few of the details have been published by the government
of Baden-Württemberg, but several issues were raised immediately. First,
as was pointed out by two substantial and well-informed articles in the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, any legal claims against the state are
very far from clear. At the time of the secularisation of the German
monasteries, property passed to the ducal library. In 1872
administration of the library was removed to the state, and then in 1918
it was in effect nationalised. The library thus became the Badische
Landesbibliothek. To cut a long story short, the manuscripts have long
been considered state property.

Quite apart from any legal claims that the family might be able to mount
(the case for them seems extremely thin), the proposal to destroy so
large and vital a part of Germany’s history has understandably caused an
international as well as a local outcry. The Karlsrühe Gemeinderat,
(roughly equivalent to an English town council) passed a unanimous
resolution condemning the proposal, noting that the collection is a
fundamental element of national identity, and of European significance.
A website petition gathered 2500 signatures within days; there were
formal protests from international bodies and learned academies
especially within Germany; senior librarians in other parts of Germany
raised their voices in protest; and, not least persuasively, the local
government was forbidden by Berlin to sell anything outside Germany.
Furthermore, any sale could entail the repayment of grants from the
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft for the maintenance and cataloguing of
the collection. As we go to press the situation is very far from
resolved. Were the case to go to court, all parties would lose. Even in
the face of such widespread opposition, the threat is far from removed.
Now there is a further threat, in a suggested alternative which exposes
some of the real motives for the proposed sale: that money might be
raised by requiring various museums in Baden-Württemberg to give up
items worth several million euros, so as to provide a financial package
equivalent to what had been dreamt of on the shelves in the
Landesbibliothek. Such an idea, which has been well-labelled as
half-baked, is unworthy of one of the wealthiest areas of a rich country
such as Germany. But then, it is difficult to understand the mentality
of a government that sees only money in its region’s inheritance. And we
cannot help recalling that this is the Land which in 1993 purchased most
of the medieval manuscripts from the ducal library at Donaueschingen for
no less than 48 million DM.


Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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